#Cannes_Lions 2014: The art and science of storytelling in the digital age

People often ask me what storytelling is – is it like a bedtime story?

As much fun as that sounds, unfortunately I’m not paid to read to people while they nod off! Storytelling is the art of substance, structure and purpose — something the crowd of creatives and advertisers including those from Microsoft, who are about to gather for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, know full well.

For me, storytelling relies on communicating our story credibly across all channels, ensuring a consistent face and voice for the business in everything it does. For people to understand your message, your underlying story needs to be the same every time they meet you. Not all media is regarded equally, and with the different mindsets across the various digital services, brands have a unique opportunity to build a story over time with different, relevant story nuggets. Across these channels and platforms, overall consistency of experience is vital. Only with a consistent message will brands truly resonate with their audiences.

A story is not a story until it is told and heard. A story that people want to listen to and be a part of must be relevant to them. To be in moments that matter most to consumers is what every brand storyteller strives for — to be a part of something people truly care about and to form deeper relationships, delivering value for both brands and consumers. Online, people are using Skype to catch up with family, Bing to find a new house or Outlook to announce an imminent event. Microsoft’s tools and technology are giving brands the opportunity to connect with consumers in moments that matter.

So when your brand is hatching that big, creative idea that will form the basis of your story, what should inform that creativity? In today’s multiscreen digital world we see the interplay between technology and creativity as brands and agencies try to find the perfect balance: On the one hand you have brilliant ideas based on intuition, hunches and experience, while on the other, you have reams of data telling you what consumers want, the reason why and when they’re likely to want it.

Combining experience and data-led insights gives creativity context and relevance in a fast-evolving market. We see brands achieve great success when they behave more like valued partners than faceless billboards. Creating a value exchange requires brands to really understand their audience to find, reach and connect with them at the right time and in the right way. We should be driven by data, inspired by creativity.

Using a range of digital platforms and services for storytelling presents as many opportunities as it does challenges. Some people still think that communicating through technology is somewhat faceless compared with speaking in person. I disagree. What technology does allow us to do is to be more present, in more places, in more ways.

Today, technology and creativity are inextricably linked. Brands need to use technology in the right way, focusing on the value exchange and being useful and relevant in moments that matter to consumers. There will always be a place for big ideas and creative brainstorms, but technology will continue to help put these ideas into context and make them a reality, expanding our horizons as creative technologists and brand experts whilst creating new experiences for consumers.

Unfortunately I can’t make it to Cannes this year, but I recommend checking out the Microsoft Beach Club as well as our seminar with Dan Lin, producer of “The Lego Movie,” if you get the chance!

If, like me, you can’t be there in person, do follow the MS Advertising Twitter feed and www.MicrosoftCannes.com. We’ll be sharing our research and insights to help brands and agencies identify and make the most of those moments that matter.